I didn't see him go over. It was more a matter of hearing it happen from a temporary limbo, as one knows a home run has been hit while one is at a concession stand buying a hot dog. In this case the tip-off was a shrill relaying of information from Edna the housekeeper, stationed at a vantage point (I could only imagine) near the window overlooking the river. There she often stands to look out, never farther than a broom handle's length or two from her beloved skillets and double boilers. "Lord, God! Come quick! Ted's in the water!"
I was in the basement, suffering a communications gap with the long-distance operator. The telephone is at the bench where he ties his flies. Usually it's sequestered among the mounds of animal hair, bird feathers and strands of tinsel that comprise the backbone of the wardrobe of his petite creations. As a concession to the outside world, he will sometimes answer it there; upstairs, when he's preparing to fish or to eat or to sleep or to make entries in his log, he's more likely to give it the indifference he thinks it deserves. In the local directory, the phone is listed under "Spaulding Trappers Association," or an equivalent, to further discourage intrusions.
I hung up on the operator, glad for the excuse, and bounded up the steps to the main floor of the cabin. Edna was now on the porch. Her apron was at her mouth. I banged through the screen door but had to pull up short to allow my eyes to adjust to the late-afternoon glare off the Miramichi. Framed by the white birch trees that surround the camp, the great glittering ribbon dominated an altogether lovely view. It's hard to think of the Miramichi as being a party to violence, but like all rivers it gets its share, and more than that now that the high incidence of salmon poaching has led to bloodshed.
It is 100 feet, almost straight down, from his porch to the river. When I finally saw him, he was already out of the deep water and trudging through the shallows, pulling the canoe behind him by the painter. He had taken on a Rockwellian perspective; he looked like a large worn-out boy trailing home his sled after a day on the hills.
We waited for him.
"You don't look so hot," I said as he reached the knoll at the top of the crude steps that lead up from the river.
"I'm all right," he said, wheezing.
He wasn't really all right. He was an obelisk of wet leather and rubber and soaked-through flannel, and the water squished in his waders. His breath came in audible bursts and made cartoon balloons in the cold New Brunswick air. He sat down heavily on the bench and began to remove his waders.
"Roy says you're a cow in a canoe."
"There's a lot of jealousy around here," he said. "A lot of jealousy."